London: Madeleine McCann may have been abducted after disturbing burglars in her family’s holiday apartment, Scotland Yard believes.
Detectives think her disappearance could be linked to a series of break-ins at the Portuguese resort from which she vanished, the Daily Mail can reveal.
The burglaries - thought to be the work of a “team” of thieves - happened in the months leading up to Madeleine’s disappearance from the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz in May 2007.
One theory - now being taken seriously by British police - is that burglars panicked after Madeleine awoke from her sleep. Sources in the Algarve - where the authorities are working closely with Scotland Yard - confirmed on Sunday that detectives are investigating a series of thefts from the Ocean Club and elsewhere in Praia da Luz.
One local source said: “It is a very serious line of inquiry.”
The break-ins came to light during the Metropolitan Police’s two year long, £5 million review of Madeleine’s abduction.
Details of the new theory emerged as Kate and Gerry McCann prepare to make a “significant” new TV appeal in light of “fresh, substantive” material unearthed as part of the Met’s review.
On Thursday, Yard chiefs revealed detectives are trawling through a vast log of mobile phone traffic identified in Praia da Luz at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.
In a process detectives say could be key to discovering what happened to the then three-year-old, any person who was present in the town on or around May 3 2007 could receive a phone call from the Metropolitan Police.
The McCanns will appear live in the studio during an episode of BBC Crimewatch on Monday next week, which will also feature a reconstruction.
It is understood police are anxious to hear from any other holidaymakers who might have been a burglary victim in Praia da Luz prior to Madeleine’s disappearance.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, of the Metropolitan Police, described the programme’s content as “substantially different”.
“It’s not just a bland ‘can you help us’ appeal, there is some different material and a different understanding to be presented,” he said.
The comments of Mr Rowley, who as chief constable of Surrey oversaw the successful re-investigation into the abduction and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler, prompted fevered speculation. Well-placed sources in Portugal dismissed local reports that police believe a local paedophile gang was responsible.
Instead, they revealed, British detectives are focusing their inquiries on a series of break-ins at Algarve resorts.
It was not clear yesterday whether the McCann’s holiday apartment, by a public road, had been previously targeted by burglars. But police are continuing to look at a large but “manageable” list of phone numbers identified as being in Praia da Luz.
A “significant” number have not yet been attributed to anyone. However, officers are now able to create a log showing calls being made at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance.
Asked if this move could be key to the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, the senior investigating officer, said: “It could be.”
But Mr Redwood said they may never know everybody who was in Praia da Luz at the same time as Madeleine, who vanished as her parents dined at a nearby tapas restaurant with friends.
Much of the focus now is to find witnesses as well as suspects. “We’re trying to understand who was there for a range of reasons,” he added.
Since the review has been launched, Scotland Yard has identified 41 potential suspects, including 15 Britons.